"Dangerous, phishing e-mails appear to come from a reputable company," explained Kelly. "Typically, consumers receive an e-mail from what looks like their bank or credit card company, or companies like eBay or AOL, with which they do business."
"The subject line might be 'account update requested,' or 'eBay registration suspension.' When consumers click on the e-mail, they are directed to a fraudulent website that might be a virtual clone of the real thing. The hackers then ask them to verify account names, numbers, passwords and other confidential information, which they use to create fraudulent accounts. This can tarnish your credit record for years."
What can you do to protect yourself from phishers? Kelly advises taking the following steps:
Never provide confidential information -- including account, PIN and Social Security numbers -- in response to an unsolicited request via e-mail or elsewhere online.
If you are unsure if a personal information request is legitimate, contact the institution directly and ask them about it, either by phone or by closing out of your browser, reopening it and typing in the website address.
"Don't click on any links, even if it looks as though you are being directed to a real website," he said. "There are ways for hackers to display fake URLs in the address bar on your browser."
If you may have responded to a phishing e-mail, contact the three national credit bureaus --TransUnion, Equifax and Experian -- to put your accounts on fraud alert - and protect credit ratings.
When providing any personal information online, ensure the website uses encryption, indicating it is safe and secure. "Always ensure you are using a secure website when submitting account or other sensitive information online via your web browser. Check the beginning of the website address in the web browser address bar for an https:// rather than http://. There will also be a padlock displayed in the bottom of the browser window indicating the site is secure," explained Kelly.
Review your account statements regularly for any suspicious activity. "You can be your own best defense against fraud. Monitor charges to be sure all expenditures are yours. If something doesn't look right, investigate it by contacting your financial organization for more information," stressed Kelly.
Report any suspicious e-mails to the FBI through the Internet Fraud Complaint Center. The center works closely with law enforcement to shut down phishing sites and identify the perpetrators behind the fraud.
"The key is to be prudent, and exercise diligence before responding to an unsolicited e-mail or entering any information into a website or pop-up window ," stressed Kelly. "These criminals are smart, so we all need to be smarter."
As a Beneficial customer, should you have any questions about privacy or security, call 215-864-6730.